"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Saturday, November 12, 2011

MU rises to No. 1 in steals and 11th best team in country with dominant "40 Minutes of Hell"

Friday Marquette played BY FAR its best season opener since joining the Big East, stealing the ball on 26.5 percent of all trips down the court and forcing a turnover on 43.3% of all trips, both the top mark of any team in the country.

People are tempted to lump all wins over cupcakes together, but this was anything but.

Since joining the Big East, the average Pomeroy ranking of MU’s opening season opponent has been 273rd, and Marquette has averaged winning by only 18 points. Mount St. Mary’s was an above-average opening day opponent (257th even after the drubbing), and Marquette won by 54 points, 91-37.

YearOpening opponentRankMargin
2005Western Carolina28811
2009Houston Baptist32431
2011Prairie View A&M33829
2012Mount St. Mary's25754

Marquette’s performance was so impressive that MU improved from 21st to 11th in Pomeroy in just one game – but it’s the suffocating defense that truly indicates the potential of this team.

11-man rotation makes "40 Minutes of Hell" possible

MU is so deep that it’s hard to see how they let up with a big lead. Who is their weakest player? Derrick Wilson? Are you sure? The guy Buzz called the best freshman defender he has ever had who looks like he has the same toughness and football mentality of another MU great to turn down football scholarships, Tony Miller? Then maybe it’s Todd Mayo. Really? Looks like he has all the confidence of his his brother O.J. Mayo who is now playing in the pros. Jamail Jones, who didn’t play much last year? He is still consider a potential NBA draft pick who put in 10 points Friday. Go through everyone on the roster.

So while Vander Blue and Jae Crowder, two of the top steals guy in the country, both came up with another four steals each Friday, the real story is that Marquette has NINE players who can pick you clean while being backed up by the best returning shot-blocker in the Big East in Chris Otule.

As a result, for the second time in two years, Marquette threw a defense on the court Friday that looked like Nolan Richardson’s "40 Minutes of Hell" that led Arkansas to the national title in 1994.

The first time was from November 26-29, 2009, when Marquette absolutely blitzed Xavier, Michigan and Florida State by cutting off every passing lane with a suffocating defense for two upsets and then a 17-point lead before running out of gas.

I saw in that series the potential for what Buzz might be able to do with pressure defense. However, the chance to maintain that level of pressure in 2009-2010 ended when Jeronne Maymon left the team two weeks later MU was left with a 7-man rotation – including Joe Fulce playing through injiury. MU was also 324th in the country in blocking shots, meaning a broken press would probably result in an easy basket at the rim.

In 2009-10, MU still stole the ball 12.1% of opponents trip down the court that season, the 32nd best total in the country, despite having to dial it back with only two players coming in off the bench, and Fulce for only 10 or 12 minutes.

Obviously in big games MU will want DJO and Jae on the court more than 24 minutes a game, so you can't keep 11 players on the court 16-24 minutes each in those games. However, with 11 players this talented, Buzz has the option of running the hockey lines and going for steals as much as he wants in the right match-ups.

It's only one game, but this year could be good. Now let's see how Marquette does Monday against a dominant big man like Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn.

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